Determinate and Indeterminate Tomato Varieties?

A tomato is a tomato, right?

One of the classifications you often see on a tomato plant or packet of tomato seed is 'Determinate' or 'Indeterminate'. In a nutshell, these terms describe whether the actual plant grows like a bush (Determinate) or like a vine (Indeterminate).  It has nothing to do with fruit size or flavor.  

Indeterminate varieties are the best sellers here at Watters Garden Center because they produce more fruit.  This is because the 'Indeterminate' plants are so much larger than their 'Determinate' cousins, and the larger the plant, the more pounds of fruit produced.  

No matter the variety, all tomatoes are vines that would sprawl along the ground if their gardeners did not stake them.  If left to their natural tendencies, tomato vines would become damp, tangled masses on the soil's surface, attracting all types of diseases and pests, including those that slither.

What is a Determinate Tomato?

Determinate tomatoes are varieties that grow to a fixed mature size and ripen all their fruit in a short period, usually about 2 weeks. Once this first flush of fruit has ripened, the plant will begin to diminish in vigor and will set little to no new fruit.

Determinate tomato plants are often referred to as “bush” tomatoes.  They do not continue growing throughout the growing season.

The plants generally are smaller than indeterminate tomatoes, with most growing to a compact 4-5 ft. tall. Pruning and removing suckers from determinate tomatoes is rarely needed since they stop growing on their own.

Despite their compact size, staking or caging is still recommended because once all the fruits begin to plump up the plants will be supporting a very heavy load. This can put considerable weight on the branches.

Many paste and Roma tomatoes, such as 'San Marzano' and 'Amish Paste', are determinate varieties.  Others have been bred to be determinate so that they can be harvested in quantity all at one time. These include: 'Celebrity', 'Marglobe', and 'Rutgers'.

Growing determinate variety tomatoes makes good sense when you want a lot of tomatoes all at one time, as for canning tomato sauce.

What is an Indeterminate Tomato?

Indeterminate tomato varieties are vining plants that continue growing in length throughout the growing season, which is why they often are referred to as vining tomatoes. They continually set fruit through the entire growing season. As a result, rather than one large harvest, they produce a steady supply of tomatoes. 

Indeterminate varieties tend to be later fruiters because so much of their Spring energy is dedicated to putting out their extensive vines.  A daily harvest of a few fruits is often the case once they do start setting fruit in mid-summer. These vines can easily grow head high and taller. 

Many of the most popular tomatoes, ‘Beefsteak', 'Big Boy', 'Brandywine', 'Sungold', and 'Sweet Million' are indeterminate.  So are cherry varieties and most heirlooms.

Early producing varieties like, 'Celebrity' and 'Early Girl', are indeterminate. However, as they tend to mature earlier and die back before the end of the season, they sometimes are labeled semi-determinate.

Although we tend to stake all types of tomato plants, the indeterminate varieties will need the largest, sturdiest stakes. Indeterminate tomato plants require substantial staking or caging to support what can become a large (6-10 ft. or taller) and heavy plant.

Force Fruit Fast

Mountain tomatoes grow larger fruits when sprayed weekly, alternating between applications of Bonide's “Blossom Set” and “Rot Stop”.

Blossom Set reminds your plant to set fruits and more of them.  Spray the foliage of each tomato plant at least twice per month.

Rot Stop is a liquid calcium that prevents 'blossom rot' while increasing the size and sweetness of each tomato.  Use Blossom Set and Rot Stop at least twice per month through the growing season. 

We have each of these sprays available in RTU bottles; they are at the garden center priced for less than the cost on Amazon, but links to purchase online are above.   

Which Variety is Better?

Both determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties have their pros and cons. It really depends on how you are going to be using the tomatoes.  If you want a thick tomato for making sauces, you are better off with paste tomatoes which tend to be determinate.

If your intention is to eat your tomatoes fresh, and want a season-long supply, go for indeterminate varieties.

If you live at an altitude where your growing season is only a couple of months long, determinate tomatoes are a better choice. However, there are short season indeterminate varieties, like 'Early Girl' that will ripen before the season ends. 

Personally, each season I like to grow a variety of tomatoes and have fun trying new types.  Experiment and see which grow best in your gardens.  

Until next week, I'll be helping locals grow sweeter tomatoes here at Watters Garden Center.

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Summer 2018 Watters Garden Classes

Watters holds Garden Classes on Saturdays at 9:30 AM in the morning FREE for our gardening friends. Each session will last approximately 1 hour. If you can't attend a class, watch the Livestream on Facebook. Like our Facebook Page to be notified when we go Live.

June 23 – Landscapes that Add Beauty and Value

Did you know that that the right landscaping can increase your home value by more than 10%? Carefully positioned trees can save up to 25% of a typical household's energy for heating and cooling. Ken Lain will take students on a journey that adds personality and value back into the landscape. As the monsoons approach this is an ideal season to change the look-and-feel of your yard. Students learn tree placement, privacy techniques, ground covers, erosion control, inspirational bloomers and more!


June 30 – Totally Tomatoes: Grow the Best!

The first fruits are appearing in the garden! Yes, we will go deep on all things tomato, but the same advice applies to the rest of the garden as well. Students learn which varieties work best for their growing conditions and garden space, bugs to watch for, diseases, companion plants, and garden advice that increases the harvest this year.


July 7 - Attract Birds, Bees & Butterflies

Monarchs, Swallowtails, and bees are in trouble, but we can help! This class goes into all the details of how to help the local natives by providing habitat and nourishment. Because they like so many of the same plants, hummingbirds are simply a bonus to this class. Learn the best local trees, shrubs, flowers, and grasses that naturally bring the best wildlife.


July 14 – Great Grapes for the Garden

Grapes are not only delicious in many different types of foods and wines, they can be used as beautiful privacy screens and garden accents. Join guest instructor and self-proclaimed “Grape Nerd” Viticulturist Nikki Bagley for a fun and information packed class on the best practices for caring for grapes in your garden. Learn what varieties will work best for you, and how to make your vines more vigorous and fruit more fantastic. Students might even learn a thing or two about wine!


July 21 – Containers that Bloom like Crazy!

Contain yourself! The right container with the right plants can bring a space in the landscape from so-so to stunning. Lisa Lain, owner of Watters Garden Center, has been creating container designs for decades. After this class, you'll have what it takes to design great container gardens that sparkle in the afternoon heat or the breezy shade. Learn about proper watering, the best foods, companion plants, and more.


July 28 - Perennial Flowers – Blooms that impress

July is the ideal month to plant perennials in the yard. Students learn how to design seasonally for a continual bloom in the garden. Notable mentions will be the native and heat-loving flowers that bloom without any care at all. All local & All Free.


Aug 4 - Easy Grow Roses

There are so many different roses to choose from--more than your grandmother ever knew about! Learn the difference between hybrid tea, floribunda, shrub, carpet and so much more. Talking points include the best rose varieties, care, and placement for non-stop blooms. Free to local gardeners that want more fragrance & color in the yard.


Aug 11– Herbs from Garden to Table

Summer is the ideal time to add herbs to the garden. Special guest instructor Deborah Maranville, chef, and owner of Natural Healing Garden, knows her herbs and uses them to create health-centered food choices that focus on utilizing local produce and delicious organic food. Join Deborah for a tantalizing cooking demonstration that will focus on the best techniques to get the herbs from your garden to spice up your cooking.


Remember, if you can't attend a class, watch the Livestream on Facebook. Like our Facebook Page to be notified when we go Live.

Some photos courtesy of Bonide.


Ken Lain, the Mountain Gardener

Ken Lain is attracted to sunshine, beauty, happiness, success and health through gardening, and wishes to point the way to others. Throughout the week Ken can be found at Watters Garden Center located at 1815 W. Iron Springs Rd, Prescott, or contacted through his web site at www.wattersgardencenter.com

Website: www.wattersgardencenter.com